Yeah, it’s saying something when you’re the least-favorite teacher in a one-room-schoolhouse kind of situation. But I’ve felt it.
The weirdest part is, I’m used to being popular. I was a favorite camp counselor, a beloved student teacher, and the kind of school teacher who was used to having kids tell me I was a favorite. Now I homeschool my kids. How can I be a great teacher in a classroom with others’ kids but a poor teacher to my own children?
Because I felt like I was failing last year, I’ve contemplated, what is really the most important factor, the one thing that really makes a difference between a good and great teacher?
Now here’s the confession: I began wondering this for the very honest reason that I saw I was NOT being a great teacher in one area of my life. I worked part-time to tutor and lead seminars for junior-high-aged homeschooled students, and I have been told many times that I am great at it. My students there show all the indications of enjoying my classes and genuinely liking me as a person.
But I also taught at home, to my own three homeschooled children, and it was not the same. They didn’t seem to enjoy me nearly as much as my older students in the classroom. Some days it was like pulling teeth to get them to do anything, let alone to enjoy it or have a good attitude. The only one who didn’t complain about school was the youngest, the 4/5 year old who didn’t do very much yet. I counted last year as my worst year homeschooling; we may have checked off all our boxes of required things, but it didn’t feel great. (And it used to be different; my boys used to enjoy our homeschool.)
Why did it seem like I could teach anyone else’s students and not my own? Was there an inherent truth to that? (You hear it a lot–from people who don’t homeschool on why they don’t. “I could never teach my own children”; “They’d not listen to me”; “They don’t want to take instruction from me.”) Is this just normal, to be expected? And there’s nothing I can do about it? I’m boring because I’m mom?
Or was it the social aspect? Do I simply need at least 5 kids to re-create the magic that happens with my 12-13 year olds in seminars? So I should not hope my 3 kids, different ages, could ever be expected to get that with just me at home? (Note, they do all attend classes two days a week, so they have peer interaction and other tutors/teachers leading them.) Did all my strengths as a teacher apply to only to a larger group of students?
I spent months trying to distill what was going on. I reviewed my ideas of what I thought made a good teacher: good lesson plans, classroom management, creativity, accurate assessment, interesting content, etc. It seemed I could bring all that to my homeschool and still, I was not a beloved teacher in my own house with my own kids as I was with others’ kids. To make a long story short, a series of revelations helped me zero in on the big difference between my classroom of 12-13 year olds and my homeschool: the version of me they got. (I wrote about those revelations and conversations with two other teachers in Second-Decade Teacher Wisdom: It’s Really About HOW You Are)
Let me break it down for you:
|Me teaching other students last year:||Me teaching my children last year:|
|Patient and gracious||Often impatient|
|Quick to laugh; I know students learn more in a relaxed atmosphere||Quick to get annoyed or frustrated|
|Having a sense of humor; it de-escalates a multitude of problems (a student getting frustrated, awkward social situations, incorrect answers, age-related silliness and off-task behaviors)||Little sense of humor, heavier on discipline|
|Exuding joy. (I was described as that by a student who wanted his mom to drive him further to be in my class again)||What? Joy? How about low energy, even boredom?|
|Gracious about mistakes, missed assignments, poor performance||Quick to scold for mistakes, missed assignments, poor performance|
|Seeking to encourage.||Sometimes seeking to encourage; sometimes just frustrated they needed more encouragement|
|Pray for them individually before class, asking God to help me be what they need from me that day.||Yes, I pray for them but don’t start every morning with this intentionality with the same intensity.|
|Cheerleading, praising successes.||Not giving enough time for celebrating their accomplishments. Quick to move on.|
|Alert, prepared, ready to give of myself.||Tired.|
|Looking for ways to say “yes” and solve students’ problems.||Quick to say “no,” and sometimes hoping not to solve problems, especially in ways that require energy.|
|Pleasant to be around.||Not always pleasant to be around.|
Ouch, that one list is embarrassing. If I could sum it up, I could just say, the difference was, I was “pleasant to be around” with other peoples’ kids. Really? It comes down to that?
I could talk about other things going on. Relate the fact that last year, I was struggling with a health issue that justifiably wiped me out. Tiredness or chronic pain can sap your creativity and patience, not just your energy. We could talk about how teaching your own kids every day is more draining than a group of kids you see only once a week. True. There are challenges you face with the every-day (all-day) kids that a once-a-week teacher never has to deal with. All true. I could cut myself some slack for not being able to give my two groups of students the same experience.
But in the end, it wasn’t ok with me, no matter the whys. I wanted to enjoy teaching my children; I wanted them to enjoy their education at home.
The Changes I Made:
So this most recent school year, I went into it with my eyes open to this factor of pleasantness with my kids.
But the year started out pretty rough. My sons came off of last year with a seemingly bitter taste still in their mouths. It was like the February sludge in late August–like they’d not had a break in months and were weary from the word go. They were uncooperative, negative and openly saying they disliked school to anyone who would ask. We had a rough few weeks. I even had to tie their allowance to their demonstrated attitude about schoolwork.
But while all the above was going on, I worked at being more like the teacher I am with my once-a-week class. I worked at being quick to laugh and having a sense of humor; for me it seemed the gateway to all the rest. If I’m quick to laugh and have a sense of humor, it is easier to cultivate patience and graciousness. Having a sense of humor helps me stay in the moment, and that’s where the joy comes in. I’m really with them, tracking with them, and that gives me a lot of energy as I truly enjoy them. (True for my teen students; true for my kids too–what d’ya-know!) I also worked on my sleep schedule so that I’m better rested, after abusing that. (Look into the affect of blue light from screens on the quality of your sleep.)
And I changed some of my homeschool goals so that I would be more pleasant. I have a son old enough that he could read literature all by himself with little interaction from me, but I decided to plan into our day time to talk with him about the books he’s reading, not just because I think it’s super important to discuss ideas in the books (English teacher here!), but also, because I think that’s perhaps the most likely place for me to be pleasant and enjoy what we’re doing. (Sometimes, you have to help yourself; set yourself up to succeed.) I could have streamlined our school day by delegating that to independent study, but I did not, in order to make me a better teacher and so he may enjoy our learning more.
We’re about half-way through this school year, and I can easily say I’m a much better teacher for my kids this year. And my kids are now cooperative, laughing, interested more often than not, and no longer acting like surly sloths. Over the holiday, someone asked one of my sons if he liked being homeschooled (and he’s usually an honest kid; I’ve heard him tell people “no” before), and without hesitation, this time he said “yes.”
We have laughed a lot more. I’m more patient. I am more inclined to follow their laughter and silliness rather than try to stop it and redirect them to efficiency, talking to them about “time.” I have been more patient in the way I handle their math time, even adding in games for one of them to make a non-loved subject less painful. I have been determined to be patient with the pace they need and the pace that allows us to enjoy life and our studies. I have consciously been aware of my impatience or boredom some days and chosen to be patient and gracious. These are all things I’ve done with students who aren’t my kids–because I know they work, build our rapport and, in the end, help accomplish more learning in the end.
There is something to be said about the fact that I, and maybe other teachers, show a better side to others’ children while just expecting more from our children without the same level of graciousness toward them. Does it come from the fact that I know if I’m not running a classroom students enjoy being in, I won’t be hired again and/or students whose parents choose to pay to put them in my class will not choose to? My children don’t pay to be in my class or my family; they have no choice. I know better than to be a boring or unpleasant teacher with a negative attitude when it comes to classrooms with others’ children. And yet, I allowed myself to be that way with my own kids for a time. I wonder how many homeschool parents can relate to this.
But recognizing it’s possible, common or even likely to happen doesn’t mean I’m ok with it. I got into this homeschooling gig because I wanted my kids to LOVE learning and to enjoy learning at their own pace.
So I’m continuing this year of homeschool, asking myself, “What would Mrs. Lannan Do?” and applying it to what Teacher Mom should do.
If anyone else out there is recognizing this in themselves, let me encourage you that it doesn’t have to stay that way. It is correctable. You can be a better teacher for your kids!
It’s one of those things you choose, and choose again. Every day. Sometimes every hour or minute by minute. I have to cultivate it to make it become my habit.
So today when my 9 year old son was being silly, interrupting his own reading lesson by telling some boy-humor joke related to bodily functions, I sat and watched him talk with a smile on his face and considered my options: to be annoyed, to demand him to stop and press on with the lesson, or to take two seconds and laugh with him. I decided I could afford a few seconds to laugh with him because of what it gave him. It gave him mirth. He was comfortable, he was relaxed, he was enjoying something. He always reads better and learns more when he’s in that mood. And if he later repeatedly tries to get off topic and be silly, I can keep my sense of humor and draw him back–without having to stomp out his smile. It’s what I know works so well with other peoples’ children…
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